The debates begin
The two candidates met
for their first head-to-head debate on Tuesday night -- an encounter almost
universally agreed to have been won by Mitt
Romney. The debate was focused on domestic policy, but the rest of the
world did come up a few times. Romney noted that, "Spain spends 42 percent of
their total economy on government. We're now spending 42 percent of our economy
on government. I don't want to go down the path to Spain." The statement provoked
some backlash from Spanish reporters and politicians, and is slightly
misleading, as well: Spain actually spends 46 percent and the American figure
includes state and local expenditures as well.
Romney also promised to "open up more trade, particularly in
Latin America" and "crack down on China if and when they cheat." Employing a
popular applause line from the campaign trail, Romney also vowed to "eliminate
all programs by this test -- if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical
it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?"
Barack Obama, who
appeared somewhat listless throughout the debate and unable to effectively
defend his record, returned to national security when summing up his
accomplishments as president. Describing his willingness to "take ideas from
anybody, Democrat or Republican," the president said, "That's how we signed
three trade deals into law that are helping us to double our exports and sell
more American products around the world. That's how we repealed ‘don't ask,
don't tell.' That's how we ended the war in Iraq, as I promised, and that's how
we're going to wind down the war in Afghanistan. That's how we went after al Qaeda
and bin Laden."
The two also clashed on defense spending, with Romney
arguing, "We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our
people, and that means the military, second to none. I do not believe in
cutting our military." Obama countered that Romney's pledge to provide "$2
trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for" is
The two candidates will meet again on Oct. 16 for a town
hall debate that will feature foreign and domestic policy and a final debate on
Oct. 22 focused entirely on international issues.
Romney on the attack
Romney is likely hoping to capitalize on the momentum from
his debate performance, and part of that will be renewed attacks on the
president's handling of national security. Romney is scheduled to give a speech
on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday. He still
trails Obama in polls asking voters which candidate they trust more as
commander in chief, though Obama's foreign-policy numbers have been slipping in
the wake of the recent turmoil in the Middle East.
Romney's speech may continue themes raised in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday which criticized the
president's handling of the crises in Libya, Syria, and over Iran's nuclear
program. "[A]mid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events
rather than shaping them. We're not moving them in a direction that protects
our people or our allies," Romney wrote.
domestic policy, Romney seemed in the debate to have moved away from the Tea
Party-influenced rhetoric on spending cuts and tax breaks that he has employed
since the GOP primary toward more centrist positions, prompting Obama to quip, "When
I got on the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt
Romney." The VMI speech will be an indication of whether a similar shift is
underway on Romney's approach to foreign policy.
The Obama administration continues to face criticism for its handling of the
attack in Benghazi, Libya, three weeks ago, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other
Americans. Asked on 60 Minutes on
Sunday if recent events in the Middle East had caused him to reconsider U.S.
support for the Arab Spring, Obama replied,
"I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with
democracy [and] universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to
participate in their own governance," Obama said. "But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain
that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of
these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of
society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are
strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment."
Republicans have seized on the "bumps in the road" remark, with Romney
campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul, saying
"After nearly four years in office, President Obama is eager to make excuses
for his failed policies at home and abroad by declaring ‘bumps in the road.'"
Former candidate Newt Gingrich was
more blunt, tweeting, "It is disgusting to have Obama describe the killing of
an ambassador and three other Americans as 'a bump in the road' on 60 minutes."
White house spokesperson Jay Carney countered
that suggestions that the president was referring to the killing of Stevens in
his remarks were "desperate and offensive."
The State Department began
a review this week into the circumstances of the Benghazi attack and what
security lapses may have occurred. Critics have asked why the ambassador was in
such a lightly defended compound in a city where militant violence had recently
occurred on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. FBI investigators finally arrived
in Benghazi on Thursday, three weeks after the attack and after the site had
already been picked over by looters and reporters. Some officials have
suggested that the State Department dragged its feet in securing a security
escort for the agents, though the administration blames the Libyan government
for the delay.
When will Syria be an
The crisis in Syria showed worrying signs of inflaming the
wider region this week when Turkey shelled
targets within Syria in retaliation for a Syrian Army mortar attack that
killed a woman and three children in Akcakale, Turkey. The Turkish parliament
has authorized further military action, though it does not appear likely that
there will be a larger military response for the time being. NATO called
an emergency meeting to discuss the issue, though there has been no
discussion yet of invoking Article 5, which would obligate the alliance to come
to the aid of member state Turkey. The U.S. State Department called
Turkey's actions "appropriate" and "proportional" and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed
outrage at the Syrian mortar attack.
The possible internationalization of the conflict raises the
question of whether the Syria crisis will become more of an issue in the
campaign. The Romney campaign has
accused the president of having "dragged his feet" in response to the
crisis and a "lack of leadership" but Romney has provided
few specifics on how he would handle Syria differently other than being
"more assertive." In his Wall Street Journal article, Romney
noted that, "In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been
slaughtered" but didn't address the crisis further.
Looking ahead to the
The major political event of next week will be Thursday's
vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Democrats
for a strong performance from Joe
Biden to stop the GOP's momentum. In the debate, which will include both
foreign and domestic policy, Paul Ryan may
be looking to establish his national security bona fides in a debate with the
more experienced Biden. Ryan has lately been taking
up the attacks on the administration's handling of Benghazi, telling radio
host Laura Ingraham, "We've
seen a confused, slow, inconsistent response to what is now very clearly known
as a terrorist act."
The latest from FP:
Peter Feaver, Clyde Prestowitz, and Dan Drezner shared their thoughts on the debate.
looks at the 10
best foreign-policy moments from debates past.
John Norris lists
campaign gaffes that really mattered.
David Rothkopf says
to start thinking about 2013.
Aaron David Miller slams
Romney's Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Michael Cohen says
the Pentagon doesn't
actually care about the national debt.
Issac Stone Fish imagines
what would happen if U.S. political hacks covered China's horse race.
Follow the latest from the campaign on The Cable and Passport.